Frank Iowa, a legend on RAGBRAI, spotted me before I saw him. The minute I saw his beard, ballcap, and laconic grin, I pulled off the road to talk. Frank professes not to remember what his original name was before he had it legally changed to Frank Iowa. I asked him, but no dice. If I remember right, he was Dave Schmidt. He disavowed the rumor that he's ridden every mile of every RAGBRAI, but he did give me a gold-colored commemorative coin that says, "Rogues" on one side and has an image of a Rogue of the Night riding a bicycle with big Satanic horns on his head/helmet and big whiskers out to the side, with a crescent moon and stars to one side.
The other side of the coin says, "Rogues Annual Great Beer Ride Across Iowa XL," with an image of Iowa at the top and an inscription that says, "Frank Iowa and the Rogues, 40th Anniversary, 2012."
I'm going to save it forever. It's not quite at the level of the commemorative coin that I got from the Soviets when I told them that the Soviet Union was breaking up as they were traveling in Iowa in 1989. But it's close. (The Estonians pooh-poohed the news when I told them the Soviet Union was dissolving, so I rode my bike home and fetched them the Sunday edition of the Des Moines Register that said so. When I came back, a man was standing at the entrance to the driveway to Mercer Park in southeast Iowa City and yelled, "Azerbaijahn! Azerbaijahn!" Apparently he wanted to read the same newspaper, but that's another story.)
I stopped near one town to meet a really cute little seven-year-old, Jayden Skalberg, and his father, Bryan Skalberg, both of Stanton, Iowa. Jayden was riding a little Mongoose bicycle just like my then seven-year-old son, Jesse Conzemius. Only Jesse's six-speed Mongoose was red and Jayden's was blue.
Jayden seemed nice and laid back. In contrast, Jesse collided with another child on a bike on his very first RAGBRAI, landed on his safely helmeted head, and I was talking to a friend so I didn't see it happen. A nurse behind me said, "I saw him fall. You'd better park him for five minutes."
I parked him, but Jesse kept saying, "Come on, Mom! Let's go, Mom! Come on, Mom!" He loved RAGBRAI, even the big hills between Solon and Anamosa. He was always happiest when his little legs were pedaling that Mongoose. Of course, he's a very strong rider now, and if he were riding with me now, his big hand would be planted in the small of my back when I was struggling uphill. He bought a car once, drove it for two years, sold it to a construction worker working on his street, and went back to riding a bike.
Ross Wilburn stopped to meet Jayden and Bryan Skalberg family too. I took a photo of the Skalbergs and then of Ross, and he took a photo of me.
A little further down I ran into Frank Iowa, and as I was leaving Frank, I saw Chuck Offenburger fly by with a light-colored, green shirt -- not a jersey, but a shirt, fluttering out to the side as he passed us at top speed.
"Hi, Chuck!" I yelled, and he lifted his right arm and waved. There was no stopping him. There never has been any stopping Chuck, even when he wore a shirt that said, "I'm Iowa Boy. Talk to me." He's the only person who ever ran me completely off the road on RAGBRAI. He was riding right, but so was I, further to the right. He was talking to a friend on his left and didn't see me, I suppose.
I found out that older women truly are as invisible as we feel when I left Sioux Center early that morning. A casually dressed man was talking to people along the road, but apparently he was supposed to be directing traffic. He directed a Suburban with a long trailer to cross the road from a stop sign just as I was going the other way, the same way the rest of RAGBRAI was riding.
"Sorry!" he yelled. "Have a nice week and a safe ride."
Sorry doesn't pay my husband and kids life insurance, but I tried to be nice about it. Of course the women driving didn't see me either, so it was a close call.
It's a good thing I'm hypervigilant. I saw them even if they didn't see me.
Later I stopped by to help a young man from Chicago, but I didn't have an allen wrench. Older women are invisible (and sometimes don't carry allen wrenches), but men also have a handicap. They're can't ask for help. So I yelled, "Got an allen wrench?" to the bikers riding by. I heard one woman ask her companion, "Got an allen?"
He said, "Yeah," and kept going.
Finally a young woman stopped, rode backward to help, and I left the young man, whose shoe was still attached to his clip-in pedal, to her and her allen wrench. I hope all went well.
I used to think an allen wrench was an "alien." Guess not.
We always see Jim's old friend Gordy Goldsmith on RAGBRAI, and we usually see Frank and Ross Wilburn, too. It's amazing how you see everybody you know on RAGBRAI among thousands of people.
Once Jim and I saw a helicopter air-lifting a RAGBRAI-er to a hospital and we said to each other, "We probably don't know her."
The woman in the helicopter was Wetherill Winder, Jim's coworker at Iowa City Transit. Small world. She had a broken pelvis and was off work for weeks.
Off route in Germantown, Alessandra, a tall, slender blond woman from Italy, was excited and happy to be back in Iowa. I think she said it was her fifth RAGBRAI. Her friend Tony from Brooklyn spoke to her in Italian, and the only word I recognized was "andiamo!" but I'm not sure what it means, unless it means "let's go!"
"Vamos!" I would have understood.
It was so damn nice to hear Tony speaking with a thick Brooklyn accent when he was still speaking English.
In 1974 I left Ithaca, New York, where most of my friends and boyfriends were from New York City, and have only been back once since.
For my enjoyment, Tony rattled off some Sicilian insults to remind me of my old boyfriend, Charlie Camisa.
"Va Napoli!" Tony said, using the gesture with his fingers pushed out from under his chin, the same gesture Stephen Colbert used when addressing Justice Antonin Scalia at the National Press Club dinner.
"Va Napoli!" or "Go to Naples!" is the only insult I remember, but Tony had a few more I recognized.
I met a few riders from Sloan-Kettering, which is near Cornell University Medical School in New York City. I remember calling a research veterinarian at Sloan-Kettering in New York City one weekend when my beloved kitty George was dying of feline leukemia.
"We'll have the vaccine for feline leukemia in five to 10 years," he told me. He was the nicest man, so comforting.
Team Escape from New York City was out in force. I saw a firefighter go by. I'm so glad Team Escape comes every year. I've heard they all stay with firefighters in Iowa, which is good. They should be able to stay with people who know the dangers of the job, if not the dangers of 9/11. I hope they come here to forget, and I hope they do forget while they're here riding through acres and acres of corn and soybeans. The little towns are all so hospitable. Orange City really worked hard to feed us well and treat us good. I had some watermelon there, a whole package of small pieces, which was nice. All the towns have so far.